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Knott’s Berry Farm’s “Halloween Haunt”, or, “Knott’s Scary Farm” as it sometimes known, had its 2013 media night last week and we got the chance to go and check out the park. Knott’s has been doing a theme park-wide haunted attraction since 1973, so it has a lot of pressure on it to do well in the face of rising competition. Our evening started with media check-in, followed by their annual hearse procession down Grand Ave in Buena Park, CA. All sorts of hearses were present, even a monster truck-size one. After that, we all lined up at the main gate and were startled when the park’s “Green Witch” decided she didn’t like us very much and sent her band of “Tricksters” out to scare. After the gate opening, we got to experience a VIP reception at the Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel across the street. The food selection was good – however, there was a lack of plates and flatware as most of the food were “finger foods”. In particular, I really enjoyed their mashed potatoes and mac ‘n cheese shooters – very tasty! We were then assigned into groups and sent to tour the various attractions inside Knott’s Scary Farm.

Walking through the park, I was very impressed with the amount of fog and lighting effects employed throughout the street zones. The monster talent of Ghost Town, Boardwalk, and Necropolis were all energetic and, I assume, happy to be scaring guests once again after the year-long break since last season. We didn’t stay long to gawk, however (that would come later), as we were moving along at a good clip towards our destination.

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Uncle Willy’s Slaughterhouse was a real treat for us as it seems like they keep adding things to it each year. This year, we noticed a couple new rooms and even an exclusive “skeleton key” room. But – more on the Skeleton Key program later. The Slaughterhouse was terrific and I cringed at learning this might be its last year. It wouldn’t be so bad if the maze was the same as it always was, but they keep adding such good stuff to it!

Black Magic is a terrific new haunted maze through a Houdini-inspired theater. The props and set design of this maze were very impressive, and it even featured a “flying” performer that was really cool. Other Houdini-inspired props and gimmicks abound, such as water torture devices, straight jacket escapes, and eye-gouged magicians performing for attendees. They even added a couple “crushing”, spike-laden walls. Of all the new mazes this year, I rank Black Magic as my overall favorite.

We also got the chance to hit their take on a traditional house of mirrors, “Mirror Mirror”. The maze actually seems rather short and, unfortunately, there really is no way out of it until attendees decide to open the exit door. Until then, you find yourself aimlessly walking about in circles and occasionally bumping into reflected versions of yourself and even other patrons. That being said, the monsters and characters inside the experience did a good job of being creepy and trying to sway guests into walking a particular direction.

I am somewhat mixed on another of the Scary Farm’s mazes, the new Gunslinger’s Grave. The experience is set in the Old West and features elements that one would expect in such a setting. The maze is filled with cowboys in little-to-no makeup and not wearing any masks (aside from some wearing desperado bandannas). Because of this, it kind of felt like walking through the regular Calico Ghost Town area of the park during non-haunt hours. I just didn’t get scared by them – although I commend them for staying in character, using period drawls and phrases. It must be said that, while I didn’t find the talent to be very scary, the two other people in my group did. Also, I commend Knott’s for trying doing something original with the maze – it is always good to innovate. Finally, I have to give a lot of credit to the designers and builders for coming up with some great sets.

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Midway through the evening, we stopped by the Wagon Camp to do a press conference with the maze designers. This was not a good idea. We were already out in the park for a couple hours, all pumped-up from getting scared and seeing all the great stuff out there. We were here for about an hour and it completely squashed all that energy. The Wagon Camp stage is so far away from the audience that you either had to squint to see the designers or use a camera zoom. Now, it’s not that I think getting to ask the maze designers questions isn’t a good idea – it absolutely is. But, this should probably have been done earlier in the evening at the reception or at a pre-event.

Thankfully, the lull in energy resolved itself quickly after hitting Dominion of the Damned – one of the park’s returning, yet all-new mazes. Last year, the vampire maze was a bit of a mess. The maze has been re-tooled and was a so much fun this year. It felt like a more modern version of the much-lauded Dominion of the Dead maze that used to be at the Scary Farm so many years ago. The vampires were reserved, yet intense when provoked and I even loved the small hedge maze out in the front of its facade.

Forevermore, another new maze this year, delves into the works of Edgar Allen Poe, brought to life by a serial killer. The maze featured some great set design and an outstanding climax which I won’t spoil in this review. I did find myself a bit confused by the costuming of the talent in the maze. I didn’t understand why everyone seemed to be wearing white sweat suits. Also, the SWAT guys at the beginning of the maze had all-white TAC gear – another thing I didn’t get. If anyone knows, please leave some comments with the answer as I am positive there is a reason. Aside from that, loved this maze!

After this, we broke off from our tour guide for the evening and headed out into the street zones to take some photos of the various monsters we encountered. As I stated earlier, the talent was on their game and had a lot of energy coming out of the gate. Knott’s has always had some terrific monster talent, and provides a more creative and free environment for them to  dynamically craft their scares. This freedom has been put to good use by the monsters, and we always enjoy watching them work.

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Finally, we rounded out our night with a viewing of Elvira’s Sinema Séance, her first show at Knott’s in many, many years. During our show, it seemed that The Mistress of the Dark was suffering from a mild case of laryngitis or, perhaps, a slight cold. But, the veteran entertainer continued on and gave an excellent performance, letting rip with one-liners and musical numbers. The show seemed a bit shorter than I recall her past ones being, but I digress. It was really cool to see her back at Knott’s and I hope she stays a few more years.

One new aspect for this year’s Halloween Haunt is the “Skeleton Key” program I touched on earlier. Some of the mazes have special introduction areas that give fans of the haunt some additional chills and information. Only Skeleton Key pass holders are eligible to see this room. So, when buying your tickets, be aware that if you want to do the Skeleton Key experience, there is an additional charge for it. This is different than Trapped: The New Experiment, which is an additional charge on top of that. We did not get to check out Trapped: The New Experiment due to their being backed up the night we visited. In short, Trapped is a more extreme, challenge/puzzle-based experience.

Overall, I award the 2013 Knott’s Scary Farm a 4 out of 5 stars. I wouldn’t say it is perfect in every detail, however I definitely enjoyed the experience even more so than I did last year and would gladly pay to come back on another night. You can get more information and purchase tickets for Knott’s Scary Farm over at their official website.

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*Update: We apologize as we accidentally posted an earlier draft of our review this morning with a different review score. This current score is reflective of the event’s final grade.

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Jerry Paxton

A long-time fan and reveler of all things Geek, I am also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of GamingShogun.com